The results of a 13-year study of 2,761 people over the age of 65, tracking all areas of activity, showed that people who spent time in social activities “fared just as well as those who spent the time exercising.” You might be asking yourself how that would be possible? Well, exercise releases endorphins; neurotransmitters which promote a feeling of well-being. Strong ties, a sense of connection and support also flood our bodies with endorphins very much in the same way that exercise does. Positive, loving, nurturing and supportive relationships strengthen and boost the immune system, providing protection against illness and disease.

Consequently, and not surprisingly, being around toxic people can have an adverse effect on your health. Negative, critical, judgmental and angry people suppress your immune system and lower your resistance to illness making your body a hosting ground for bacteria, viruses, and more. In addition to disease, having few social connections can also take its toll on your health. A lack of healthy social ties is linked to depression, premature cognitive decline and a higher death rate.

In a study of more than 309,000 people, a lack of strong relationships “increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50%- roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day and greater than obesity and physical inactivity.”

Another study in the British Medical Journal reported, “older people who were least likely to attend church, travel, or seek out other social activities suffered 20% higher mortality from all causes than those who socialized the most.”

In a 12-year study from Harvard School of Public Health found that “fewer social ties added up to a greater likelihood of cognitive impairment”

Finally, in recent study that I conducted on betrayal showed that over 60% of those surveyed suffered from physical ailments such as low energy, difficulty falling and staying asleep, as well as extreme exhaustion and fatigue; over 50% suffered from emotional symptoms- sadness, anger, anxiety, fear, irritability, and depression; furthermore, over 50% suffered from mental ailments from feeling overwhelmed, to being unable to focus and concentrate. Toxic, unhealthy relationships clearly affect us more than socially. They take a mental, physical, and emotionally toll us too.

So, how does this happen?

Lonely and isolated people show signs of a suppressed immune system and very often grapple with their mental/emotional well-being as they struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolationism. Conversely, people who share a connection with a few close friends or are a part of a large group show signs of a strong, healthy immune system. Additionally, they benefit from a flood of endorphins that the support and positive feelings that strong social ties provide.

There’s no question that increased, constructive interactions are necessary to our physical and mental well-being, but why is it that people around you can so dramatically affect what is happening inside of you?

The reason is that being around positive, supportive people can actually reduce damaging levels of stress hormones, like cortisol. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that your adrenal gland produces. It helps your body regulate carbohydrates, fats and proteins. It also helps to reduce inflammation, manages your blood pressure and increases in blood sugar, but its most significant function is to assist your body with the “fight or flight” response in a crisis. Therefore, consistent and sustained high cortisol levels negatively impacts digestive and immune function, heart health, sleep, weight, hormones, libido and more.

So, what do you do if you don’t have many close ties?

Begin- groups, clubs, and organizations offer great opportunities to make connections that provide real health benefits. Odds are that you will be surrounding yourself with like-minded people, and like-minded people tend to be encouraging and supporting of one another. And let’s not forget our furry friends. Pet owners have a genuine bond with their pets- a bond that gets the endorphin flowing and our stress response relaxing. Another wonderful way to “connect” is to immerse ourselves in nature. Going for a walk, watching the sunset or sunrise, counting stars are all wonderful ways to enjoy the benefits of feeling connected.

Can you identify the link between your relationships and your health? Are your relationships creating health and wellness, or disease and illness? You’re worth taking some time to look at your relationships and determine what they are providing. It’s also important to find ways to prevent the physical, mental, and emotional wear and tear that unhealthy relationships can cause.  Do you have any “energy drains” in your life? Are you suffering from energy drain symptoms? Let me know, I’d like to help.

Dr. Debi

Taking Responsibility